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The Durban kids in snow

The Durban kids – (from left) Zachary, Brady and Sara – focusing on the simple things, like playing in the snow.

Snowy trees and candy canes and reindeer and presents and cookies and carols and stress and pressure and rush rush rush.

I’m not sure when it happened, but at some point our culture adopted stress as a guaranteed part of the holidays, as predictable as turkey and Santa. Listen to all the ads and all the headlines, and more often than not it’s assumed that Christmas will leave you physically, emotionally and financially drained. Back in October, one of my friends posted that she was already having “sudden onset Christmas anxiety.” The very thought of the impending season was enough to make her sweat.

This year, I’m proposing that we take a step back and reevaluate what’s actually necessary. If an obligation or tradition or invitation doesn’t add to the joy of the season, is it possible to skip it? As we head into the thick of what our culture tells us will be the Christmas craziness, I’ve decided to give myself permission to do things differently. How might this year be different if we all decided that:

• It’s OK not to go to every party/gathering/open house/etc. you’re invited to. In case you need reminding (because I know sometimes I do) – parties are supposed to be fun! Are you looking forward to it? Will you be really missed by someone who matters to you? If not, consider if you’d be happier with a night in, and then refuse to feel guilty about it.

• It’s OK to spend less. Small, meaningful gifts usually stay with the receiver long after the big expensive ones are forgotten. Your kids, your parents, your friends would all probably value time with you (an unfrazzled, less-stressed you) more than anything you can buy.

• It’s OK to pass up the goodies that you’ll regret later. In a season when there seems to be decadent food around every corner, focus on the meaningful food (the spice cake that reminds you of your grandmother, the stuffing only your dad can make, the cookies baked for you by a child you love, etc.) and skip the rest. So many times, I’ve found myself eating something I didn’t even like that much because it’s “tradition.” No more!

• It’s OK to keep the focus on the meaningful traditions. Perhaps more than anything else we do during the Christmas season, my kids love the night we all get in the car and drive around to look at Christmas lights. That’s an evening we’ll always make time for. The million other activities that are expensive, stressful to get to, and add to the craziness? I vow to really make sure they’re worth it before committing. Would my family be just as happy or even happier with a Christmas movie and hot chocolate, or an afternoon playing together in the snow? I’d wager that the answer is usually “yes.”

Above all, my goal is to be really present this holiday season. We live in a world full of distractions, and too often we’re letting a season that gives us a reason to really focus on gratitude and joy get lost in details, obligations and logistics. We’ll all face our own unique challenges and issues this Christmas season, but I sincerely hope you’ll join me in evaluating what’s really important and be kind to yourself in the process.

I wish you happy, peaceful, meaningful holidays!

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